Summer seed sowing

After the first flush of spring sowing, don’t forget you can still sow seeds throughout June, July and early August.

Sowing in summer gives you a succession of organic salads and vegetables for the table.  It is also the perfect time to start your winter veg growing.  Kale, chard and cabbages will keep you in vitamins throughout the cold, grey months.

Here's how:

  • Make sure the sowing area soil is firm with a loose, fine tilth on the surface.
  • Sow the seed according to packet instructions ie depth and density
  • If you sow in lines, you will be able to distinguish your plants from weed seedlings
  • Water well, and keep the soil moist all through the next week or so, until germination.

Here are some ideas for sunny, summer sowing: Kale, Carrots, Lettuce, French beans (non-climbers), Spring cabbage, Purple sprouting broccoli, Chard (leaf beet)
A variety of seeds are available from The Organic Gardening Catalogue.  And Garden Organic members get 10% off.

Kale
One of the easiest ‘greens’ to grow, kale can keep you in leaves nearly all the year round.  Sow each month in succession, from March until mid August, and you will have plants of varying sizes to cut and come again. The last sowing, in August, enables the plant to mature so it can survive the first frosts.  Why not try the special winter treat, cavolo nero, with its long black leaves?
How to sow and grow:
Sow seed 0.5cm deep. When plants are 10cm tall earth up the soil to touch the bottom leaves, firming well.  This helps support the plant when fully grown.
Water well and mulch in dry weather.  Protect with fleece from pigeons and caterpillars.
How to harvest and eat:
Cut young leaves regularly, older ones can be bitter.  Delicious in soups and stir fries. Try roasting leaves to make them crisp or blending them with walnuts, garlic, olive oil and parmesan to make pesto.

Carrots
Sowing carrots in the summer works well on two counts: they will be ready for the first winter months, and if you also grow ‘early’ varieties you can pull the small, sweet roots before autumn.  An added bonus is avoiding the late spring attack of the carrot root fly.
How to sow and grow:
Sow seed 1cm deep in rows 10-15cm apart. Choose deep sandy soil for long roots. Thin seedlings to 7cm.
Remove weeds by hand. Water fortnightly in dry weather for steady growth. If left dry for too long, sudden watering or rain can cause the roots to ‘split’ open.  Use fleece to prevent the carrot fly laying its eggs (there is a second laying season in August).  These will develop into grubs which will bore into the carrot root.
How to harvest and eat:
Pull carrots when young, small and sweet. You can also eat the ‘thinnings’ if you sowed too thickly. Baby carrots are delicious raw, as well as roasted. Try them grated with fresh lemon and sugar. Add to stews, spicy soups and curries, or simply juice with orange and pineapple, or lemon and beetroot.

Lettuce
There are so many varieties of lettuce; from Lollo Rosso, with it’s large, deep red leaves, to the crisp batavian Blond de Paris, plus Little Gems and luscious Buttercrunch - it’s possible to ring the changes with every fortnightly sowing.  The pointed leaf variety, Veneziana, is perfect for sowing right into autumn.
How to sow and grow:
Sow the tiny seeds 0.5cm deep. Thin or transplant seedlings to 15-30cm apart. Keep plants watered in dry weather to stop the leaves becoming tough and bitter. Protect from slugs with traps and barriers (see https://www.gardenorganic.org.uk/slugs-and-snails.)
How to harvest and eat:  Keep picking outer leaves of looseleaf varieties; wait until central leaves feel firm for plants with a heart. Delicious in every green salad; toss in some edible flowers such as chives, marigolds and nasturtiums; grill the firm crispy hearts and drizzle with creamy dressing; shred and add to wraps; make delicate lettuce and fresh pea soup.

French beans
Even in July it’s not too late to sow beans. Although the climbing varieties might not get far enough to flower and fruit. Stick to dwarf ones, and you’ll be picking well into the autumn.  
How to sow and grow:
Sow seed 2cm deep in pots or rows. Thin or transplant to 25cm apart. Water plants when the pods are swelling and support them with twiggy sticks.
How to harvest and eat:
Cut pods when they cleanly snap in half. Pick every 2-3 days. When cooked (keep the crunch!) serve hot in curries and stews, or cold in salads with flaked almonds and lemon dressing. Young beans are delicious raw, dipped into hummous or cottage cheese.

Spring Cabbage
To get green, fresh cabbage early in the year you need to start growing it the previous summer. Sowing in July and August is ideal. Did you know cabbage is rich in vitamins K, C and B? And if you eat it with citrus, your body absorbs even more of its iron content.
How to sow and grow:
Sow seed 0.5cm deep in pots or seedbed. Thin or transplant to 10x30cm apart, planting firmly. Choose fertile soil and sunny site. Pull soil around stems (‘earth-up’) in autumn, and firm plants loosened by wintry weather. Remove yellowing leaves.
How to harvest and eat:
Cut when ‘hearted’ ie with firm inside leaves. Or take outer leaves for individual servings. Steaming rather than boiling prevents too much nutrition loss. Or serve raw in a coleslaw, with apple, orange and mustardy dressing. Firm cabbage hearts can be ‘grilled’, and large outer leaves can be used like wraps around savoury rice filling.

Purple sprouting broccoli
PSB is another plant which provides healthy vitamins during a long winter. Like all brassicas it will need protection from caterpillars during the summer months, but by the first frosts it only needs to be guarded from pigeons.
How to sow and grow:
July is the latest you can safely sow seed to guarantee mature plants. Sow 0.5cm deep in pots or seedbed,  then transplant 45x60cm apart in fertile soil when 10cm tall. Plant so the bottom leaves touch the soil, firming well. Water in prolonged dry weather. Plants are top-heavy so stake and pull soil around stems (‘earth-up’) as they grow.
How to harvest and eat:
Cut or snap off purple heads (‘spears’) when 10-20cm long, before flowers open. Start with the central spear to encourage branching. Cut regularly for 6-8 weeks.  Delicious steamed and drizzled with a creamy anchovy dressing; baked in a cheese sauce; tossed through pasta or on a bed of saffron rice with almonds, soy sauce and sesame seeds.
 
Chard (leaf beet)
Multi coloured chard – with stems from ruby red to pink, white and bright yellow – not only cheers up the veg patch but also keeps you in delicious leaves through the winter.  Deep green perpetual spinach is similar (not to be confused with annual spinach.)
How to sow and grow:
Sow 1cm deep, at intervals up until the beginning of August. Thin or transplant seedlings to 15-30cm apart. Choose fertile soil and sunny site.
How to harvest and eat:
Regularly cut off outer leaves when big enough to use. If you cut young seedlings when 10cm high, down to 2.5cm, plants will regrow several times.  Serve stems and leaves separately; leaves steamed to accompany fish or meat, stems boiled and baked in a cheese sauce or added to a risotto. Tiny leaves are delicious in salads.